In Switzerland, the compensation of MPs, which is key to the professionalization of the parliamentary office (Borchert 2008), remained purely symbolic for a very long time, due to the importance of the “militia” principle. According to this principle, the responsibilities of Swiss MPs are conceived as a service to the community, performed in an honorary capacity, and thus as not warranting the payment of a genuine compensation. This view remained very much dominant until at least the 1970s–1980s (Wiesli 2003; Pilotti 2017). During the last thirty years, Switzerland has undergone a process of parliamentary professionalization. However, when compared to other Western countries, parliamentary professionalization in Switzerland not only lags behind and is unfinished but also remains contested by a segment of the economic right and, since the early 1990s also by the nationalist right (i.e. the Swiss People’s Party, SVP).
Based on the typology of legislators developed by Cotta and Best (2000: 524), our analysis will demonstrate that the weak professionalization among the Swiss parliamentary elites has facilitated the persistence of the figure of the dignitary and delayed the transition to the figure of the professional politician. When compared to other European countries, the professional profile of Swiss MPs throughout the 20th century is characterized, on the one hand, by a strong domination of lawyers, entrepreneurs and farmers. On the other hand, the presence of public employees instead remains very low, while it is predominant in other European countries (Cotta and Tavares de Almeida 2007).
Borchert, Jens (2008), “Political Professionalism and Representative Democracy: Common History, Irresolvable Linkage and Inherent Tensions”, in Palonen Kari, Pulkkinen Tuija and Rosales José Maria (eds.), The Ashgate Research Companion to the Politics of Democratization in Europe. Concepts and Histories, Surrey, Ashgate: 267-283.
Cotta, Maurizio and Best Heinrich (2000), “Between Professionalization and Democratization: A Synoptic View on the Making of the European Representative”, in Best Heinrich and Cotta Maurizo (eds.), Parliamentary Representatives in Europe 1848–2000. Legislative Recruitment and Careers in Eleven European Countries, Oxford, Oxford University Press: 493-526.
Cotta, Maurizio and Tavares de Almeida Pedro (2007), “From Servants of the State to Elected Representatives: Public Sector Background among Members of Parliament”, in Cotta Maurizio and Best Heinrich (eds.), Democratic Representation in Europe. Diversity, Change, and Convergence, Oxford, Oxford University Press: 51-76.
Pilotti, Andrea (2017), Entre démocratisation et professionnalisation : le Parlement suisse et ses membres de 1910 à 2016, Zurich and Geneva, Seismo.
Wiesli, Reto (2003), “Switzerland: The Militia Myth and Incomplete Professionalization”, in Borchert Jens and Zeiss Jürgen (eds.), The Political Class in Advanced Democracies, Oxford, Oxford University Press: 374-392.